CBSN

245 Confirmed Dead In Iran Quake

Villagers look on as a bulldozer searches for bodies in Abdareh village, Qazvin province, Iran 140 miles southwest of Tehran, Saturday, June 22, 2002, after a strong earthquake hit the area.
AP
Anguished screams poured from makeshift tents Monday, replacing the drone of bulldozers after they ended their grisly task -- pulling the last bodies from rubble in one of 100 villages demolished by an earthquake that killed 245 Iranians.

"I've lost all hope," wailed Saadalluh Qasemi, 45, who lost his wife, 8-year old son and 10-year-old daughter in Saturday's magnitude 6.1 quake in northwestern Iran.

"The only thing I have left is God's favor to push ahead and make a new life for the children I have left," he said.

State-run television said the death toll had risen overnight to 245 from 220, while state radio estimated the injured at 1,300, based on reports from rescue teams on the ground.

Rescue efforts in Abdareh, a tiny town hit hard by the quake, drew to a close Monday, with the last bodies being retrieved from the debris of some 40 demolished homes. The quake also toppled the village's mosque and killed at least 20 people.

Makeshift tents became home for many grieving villagers, many of whom had been left homeless by the quake or were too frightened to return to several still-standing homes, fearing aftershocks.

Groups of survivors huddled together in a hilltop cemetery, wailing for loved ones they had buried in makeshift graves. Most mourners were covered in dust and dazed with grief.

Qasemi said his wheat farm was intact, but he and his three surviving children would have to rebuild their house from scratch.

The quake struck at 7:30 a.m. when most people were in their homes of brick, stone or mud. The quake, whose epicenter was in the Qazvin provincial town of Bou'in-Zahra, left thousands homeless.

In nearby Changooreh, about 150 miles west of Tehran, only two of the village's 100 houses remained intact and about 140 people were killed.

Desert and hills mark Qazvin's terrain. The area, inhabited by tens of thousands of people, is rural but is home to many small factories and businesses.

Zahra Mehri, 38, said she went to Changooreh to discover that 15 family members had been killed, including her mother.

"I think the worst is still to come because we are at the beginning and we are still too shocked to understand what happened," she said.

The quake hit the provinces of Gilan, Tehran, Kurdestan, Qazvin, Zanjan and Hamedan and was followed by several aftershocks, the state news agency said. It was felt in Tehran, Iran's capital, but there were no damage reports.

Energy Ministry officials on Monday said electricity was restored to all areas.

Major earthquakes are not uncommon in Iran, which lies on a major seismic line. Moderate tremors are reported in various parts of the country almost daily.

Since 1990, more than 41,000 people have been killed in three major earthquakes. In the Qazvin area, a 1963 earthquake killed 12,225 people.

A five-member United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination team held meetings Monday with officials in Iran, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said.

The World Health Organization, the U.N. Children's Fund, the World Food Program, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the U.N. Development Program have offered assistance from primary health care kits to water and tents for up to 80,000 people.

Pope John Paul II has sent his prayers to victims and called for a "generous" international response.

President Bush has offered condolences. Iran and the United States have no diplomatic ties and relations are marked by hostility. Iran has said it will accept U.S. aid only from unofficial organizations.